Director: Derek Cianfrance
This review originally appeared on Ramp.ie
In Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance started with a married couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams at their heartbreaking best) about to break up and, like them, wistfully looked back on the past at the love that once was and the headlong way these young lovers went into the future together. With The Place Beyond The Pines, Cianfrance starts in the here and now and races into the future with little concern for who gets left behind. We’re the ones left holding the bag, as Cianfrance makes the big leap from emotional intimacy to epic drama, with mixed results.
At the very least, Cianfrance knows how to use his actors. Gosling and Cooper are at the peak of their popularity now, and The Place Beyond The Pines gets all their female fans on board right from the get-go, opening with a shot of Gosling’s bare tattooed abs. Then comes a bravura Steadicam shot following Gosling’s Luke as he crosses the fairground he works at to the stunt show where he performs on his motorcycle. Is this Gosling’s attempt to cast himself as a counter-culture bad boy, a la Brando in The Wild One? If so, could someone please remind him he already made Drive? Dude, you’re already cool, calm down!
Comparisons to Drive are inevitable, but they do TPBTP few favours. When he finds out that his old flame Romina (Eva Mendes in an excellent turn, shorn of glamour) gave birth to his child months before, he decides to take responsibility and provide for his offspring. Will he get a respectable job? Of course not; he has tattoos! Therefore, he must engage in criminal activity. With the assistance of Robin (Ben Mendelsohn, who seems doomed to forever play varying degrees of slimeball), Luke finds a lucrative sideline in bank robbery. Stuntman sidelining in criminal deeds? It’s not a big stretch for Gosling; he’s solid here, but he has played this role before.
The flipside of Luke is Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), one of the best cops in Schenectady, NY. With a loving wife (Rose Byrne) and supportive colleagues (including Bruce Greenwood and Ray Liotta), Cross’ world gets shaken up when he finds himself in pursuit of Luke after a botched robbery. The chase ends with an encounter that will shape both men’s futures. We’d probably care more if we hadn’t seen this scenario many times before.
However, the biggest problem with The Place Beyond The Pines is its three-act structure. Cianfrance and his co-writers Ben Coccio and Darius Marder focus the first act solely on Luke and the second act entirely on Cross. Both Gosling and Cooper can command the screen, but when one story lapses into another, it feels like an entirely different film has begun. Worse still is the third act, which lolls into view with the dreaded words ‘Fifteen Years Later’. After eons of critics and audiences complaining that this structural gambit doesn’t work, screenwriters and directors haven’t got the message. It’s a leap of faith too far, especially when characters from the first two acts don’t appear to have aged in that time.
The ambitious filmmaking in The Place Beyond The Pines (a rough translation of the Mohawk word from which the name ‘Schenectady’ is derived) is not quite enough to save it from its own pretensions, nor are the solid performances enough to provide escape from a clumsy and overstretched final act. It looks the part, but next to Drive’s pedal-to-the-metal, The Place Beyond The Pines is coasting in a much lower gear.